HCMC Dining Guide

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bizarro Saigon

Twenty minutes south of Saigon's center, one can find a strange area that looks nothing like the rest of the country: the Phu My Hung New Urban Area, in District 7. Many Vietnamese singers, actors, and athletes live out there, as do a large number of expat businessmen (and women). Driving on PMH's broad streets is a far less frustrating experience than dealing with the cramped streets of the inner city, although it isn't necessarily any safer, since most people ignore the red lights because traffic is so light. It is expected that, within the next 10-20 years, Phu My Hung will become another city center, home to international schools, an Australian university, office towers, grocery stores, golf courses, fancy restaurants and, most importantly, high-end housing. I'll cover some of the ongoing projects in another post, but this one is dedicated to what is already in place.

Driving around Phu My Hung really is a strange experience. The streets, as mentioned, are quite wide and relatively clean (except for all of the dirt from construction sites). Many of the roads are also arranged in logical grid patterns; in the rest of the city they were basically just thrown down wherever someone decided there should be a road. There are manicured green spaces with water features. Pollution is minimal. Office parks that wouldn't look out of place in Silicon Valley, and condo developments that could have been brought over from an affluent American suburb, abound. The fanciest houses I've seen here sit inside gated communities, many of which have their own schools located within the grounds. I imagine most visitors to Saigon, and even most of the people that live here, would be shocked to see the clean modernity of Phu My Hung.
A tree-lined Phu My Hung street, with the Sky Garden III apartment towers on the right.

A typical house in PMH.

Wow, grass!

Saigon...or San Diego?
Probably the most prominent project within Phu My Hung is The Crescent, a strip of high-end restaurants, residences, and a gigantic, yet-to-be-completed mall, set around a quiet lake shaped like, you guessed it, a crescent. At night, motor vehicles are banned from The Crescent, and the area turns into a pedestrian's dream; probably the only one of those in the entire city. It is hoped that this development will offer an alternative to the chaos of District 1 for families, and anyone else, that wants to enjoy some peaceful quiet that just can't be found anywhere else in Saigon. It certainly is an impressive sight.
The Crescent
The Crescent Residences

 These last two pictures are from the area opposite The Crescent. There are several Garden Court complexes, home to apartments and stores of all kinds: furniture, food, baby supplies, and whatever else a new suburban family would need. One of the most enjoyable aspects about riding around PMH is noticing how many couples decide to take their wedding photos in the street-side gardens, or in front of the cutting-edge buildings of the area. I saw at least half-a-dozen couples within a four-block radius posing for the cameras. This is a testament to how dramatically different Phu My Hung is from the rest of the city. The only thing developers need to do now is make sure they can lure enough people out of the city and into the new urban area, in order for it to gain some character. Right now it's pretty soulless, but I imagine that will change rather quickly.

On an unrelated note, here are two pictures of the Thu Thiem tunnel, which runs under the Saigon River between District 1 and 2, and is set to open later this year. Its completion should transform the transportation network of the city for the better.

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